Editorial: Go Big on One Center City

Sunset skyline

Crises inspire clarity and focus, and One Center City is no different. Our whirlwind of overlapping projects usually overwhelms us with extended process and mind-numbing rounds of design revisions and open houses. But Seattle in 2017 faces an historic convergence of projects that prevents us from such discursive luxuries. If we do nothing, we face 3 years of misery from 2018-2021 until Northgate Link saves the day. We have to act quickly and boldly.

In a Center City where 70% of commuters (and 95% of new commuters) do not drive alone, it should be crystal clear where our priorities lie. From Vision Zero, our Bike and Transit master plans, to our climate commitments, or to a cold utilitarian optimization of space, One Center City should head in only one direction. We must enhance transit, walking, and bicycling, and deemphasize peak auto access. Since the geographic constraints of our city are immutable, our dilemma is not ideological but geometric. As such, there are only two ways to make traffic better: transcend it through a more efficient use of space, or hope for recession, depopulation, and urban flight. Which would you prefer?

If our civic leaders really believe this, One Center City’s options come into clear relief. Here is what should be done: Continue reading “Editorial: Go Big on One Center City”

Scenes from a Meltdown

Trooper Rick Johnson (Twitter)

Ok, so we’re definitely not ready for the Big One. The ‘quake’ that was felt in Seattle on Monday was due to a single tanker truck, overturned and leaking butane at the I-90/I-5 interchange. At 10:30 Monday morning, the overturned truck caused a closure of I-5 in both directions that lasted until after 7pm. Crews worked to upright the tanker but also kept the scene clear for safety reasons.

20 months after we rage-laughed at ourselves on behalf of a salmon truck bringing us to our knees, this closure was far worse. Throw in a bitterly comical coup de grâce of thundersnow, and we truly had a meltdown for the ages. I-5 traffic was dead stopped for 8.5 hours, and southbound drivers’ only respite was to exit onto downtown surface streets, leading to intractable gridlock. Buses quickly fell behind, many of them two hours behind, the First Hill streetcar gave up and stopped operating on Broadway, and at one point there were twelve RapidRide D coaches bunched between Denny and Mercer in Lower Queen Anne. The West Seattle Water Taxi was turning people away on each run, and streets like Stewart were wall to wall with idling buses and cars. Normally placid side streets on Capitol Hill such as Belmont and Boylston – where I tell people I live in ‘the eye of the storm’ – were also gridlocked.

Aside from knock-on delays from tunnel bus unpredictability, Link light rail performed swimmingly, almost as if nothing at all was happening. We received two reports from Eastside commuters who had no trouble traveling from Kirkland to Capitol Hill at 4pm via bus and Link. Twitter was abuzz with frustrated souls wishing ST3 had been finished yesterday.

What was your experience like Monday? What did you notice? Below are a selection of reader-submitted photos.

Continue reading “Scenes from a Meltdown”

Community Transit Commuter Restructure in 2023

Sounder Bruce – Flickr

[Editor’s Note: the author is not employed by Community Transit, and the restructure ideas presented here are entirely his own.]

Community Transit currently has 19 routes that serve Downtown Seattle and the University District during peak commuter hours. In 2023, Westlake-Lynnwood travel times on Link will be 28 minutes with trains coming up to every 3-4 minutes. While one-stop service is nice, Snohomish County will be transformed with realigned service for Link to downtown Seattle.

The goals of restructure would be the following:

1) Continue to serve existing ridership with one transfer to Link.
2) Consolidate commuter routes to reduce overlap and create one corridor with increased service span and frequency where needed.
3) Create a frequent transit network (FTN) connecting to Link.

Details are after the jump.

Continue reading “Community Transit Commuter Restructure in 2023”

60 Transit-Related Bills Survive Fiscal Committee Cut-off

Friday was the last day for bills in the state legislature to get out of fiscal or transportation committees. Budget bills are exempt from that cut-off. The next cut-off is 5 pm on Wednesday, March 8, when bills have be out of their original house.

33 transit-related bills survived Friday’s cut-off in the House.

Passed out of House:

House Bill 1018, by Rep. Tom Dent (R – Moses Lake) et al, would increase the maximum amount the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) can provide to an individual sponsor in a single Airport Aid Grant Program grant from $250,000 to $750,000. The bill passed out of the House 97-0-0-0 on February 1, and heads next to the Senate Transportation Committee.

Engrossed House Bill 1188, originally by Rep. Steve Bergquist (D – Renton) et al, would requires a child to be properly secured in a rear-facing child restraint system until the age of 2 or until he or she reaches the seat manufacturer-set weight and height limits (while in a moving automobile required to be equipped with a safety-belt system), would require a child not secured in a rear-facing seat who is under the age of 4 to be properly secured in a forward-facing child restraint system until he or she reaches the seat manufacturer-set weight or height limits, and would Requires a child not secured in a forward-or rear-facing child restraint system who is under the age of 10 to be properly secured in a child booster seat until he or she reaches the seat-manufacturer-set weight or height limits. The bill was amended on the House floor and then passed out of the House 69-28-0-1 on February 20. A floor amendment by Rep. Ed Orcutt (R – ), would require the Washington Traffic Safety Commission to produce and disseminate informational and educational materials that explain the proper use of child restraint systems, the safety risks of not properly using child restraint systems, where assistance on proper installation and use of child restraint systems can be obtained, and the penalties for not properly using child restraint systems.

SHB 1199, by the House Judiciary Committee, and originally sponsored by Rep. Morgan Irwin (R – Enumclaw) et al, would give youth courts with jurisdiction over traffic infractions jurisdiction over transit infractions as well. The committee amendment would have youths not be referred to a youth court if they have had a prior transit infraction, are under the jurisdiction of any court for unlawful transit conduct, or have convictions for unlawful transit conduct. Youth courts are for 16- and 17-year-olds only. The bill passed out of the House 98-0-0-0 on February 9, and heads next to the Senate Human Services, Mental Health & Housing Committee. The companion bill, SB 5203, was amended in that same committee on February 6, and is sitting in the Senate Rules Committee.

HB 1262 by Rep. Joan McBride (D – Kirkland) et al, would increase the minimum width for an access aisle located adjacent to an accessible van parking space from the current 60-inches mandate to 96 inches in all cases. The access aisle must be in addition to the adjacent van parking space, however, two van parking spaces may share a common adjacent access aisle. A sign will be required at the head of each access aisle that prohibits parking in the access aisle. The bill passed out of the House 97-0-0-1 on February 15, and next heads to the Senate Transportation Committee.

Substitute House Bill 1273, by the House Transportation Committee, and originally by Rep. Cindy Ryu (D – Shoreline) et al, would authorizes the Department of Licensing (DOL) to issue nondomiciled Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs) and Commercial Learner’s Permits (CLPs) to individuals domiciled in a foreign country if they provide valid documentation that they are authorized to stay or work in the United States and meet certain specified federal requirements, would authorize DOL to issue nondomiciled CDLs and CLPs to individuals domiciled in other states that are out of compliance with federal CLP and CDL requirements if they meet certain specified federal requirements, and would require the nondomiciled CDL and CLP to be marked “non-domiciled” on its face. The substitute bill passed out of the House 82-15-0-1 on February 20.

HB 1615, requested by WSDOT, and sponsored by Rep. Shelley Kloba (D – Kirkland) et al, would adjust relocation assistance limits upward for owners and tenants displaced by WSDOT property acquisitions to be in line with similar assistance limit updates in the federal Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). The bill passed out of the House 91-6-0-1 on February 16, and heads next to the Senate Transportation Committee.

Passed out of House Transportation Committee: Continue reading “60 Transit-Related Bills Survive Fiscal Committee Cut-off”

Community Transit Adds Late Night Trips on March 12

CT 8147 in Marysville
Marysville’s Route 201 will have new late-night trips beginning March 12

Beginning Sunday, March 12, Community Transit will add 40 new weekly trips on 11 routes, increasing late-night service on two major corridors, adding mid-day frequency in Lynnwood and expanding DART paratransit service hours. As we reported last year, the trips will combine for a total of 6,300 hours, and will be followed by a large service change planned for September 2017.

New late-night weekday service is planned for two routes on the Highway 99 corridor (the Swift Blue Line and Route 101), the Marysville area (Routes 201 and 202), and on local service to Mukilteo (Route 113) and Mill Creek (Route 115). New mid-day weekday trips on Routes 119 and 120, both serving the southwestern portion of Snohomish County, will boost all-day frequency from hourly to half-hourly.

Full list of changes after the jump. Continue reading “Community Transit Adds Late Night Trips on March 12”

News Roundup: Straight outta 2000

Waiting For First Hill Streetcar in Seattle Dawn

This is an open thread.

Move Seattle’s Rapid Ride Corridor Planning Kicks Off

Sounder Bruce (Flickr)

Last night the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) kicked off planning for the five additional RapidRide corridors promised in 2015’s Move Seattle levy. The Draft Seattle RapidRide Expansion Program Report rolls two projects already underway – Madison Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Roosevelt High Capacity Transit (HCT) – into a single process that includes the next five corridors: Delridge (Route 120), Rainier (Route 7), Market/45th (Route 44), Fremont/Ballard/Northgate (Route 40), and 23rd Avenue (Route 48).

The seven corridors would come online in quick succession between 2019 and 2024, beginning with Madison BRT (now Rapid Ride G) in 2019 and Delridge (now Rapid Ride H) in 2020. Shortly after the opening of these seven corridors and East Link, SDOT will have met its “10/10” goal of having 72% of Seattle residents within a 10-minute walk of 10-minute or better service. The network effect of Link’s Red and Blue lines with Seattle’s twelve total BRT corridors will be nothing less than transformative. The existing C, D, and E lines will join the seven Move Seattle corridors, a Metro-led Rapid Ride corridor between Bothell-Kenmore-Lake City-UW (Route 372), and Sound Transit’s coming BRT along SR 522 and NE 145th St.

Continue reading “Move Seattle’s Rapid Ride Corridor Planning Kicks Off”

Metro May Consider Later Service on Holidays

Seattle’s Space Needle fireworkstransit service winds down around 1 AM on most nights. The evenings of July 4th and December 31st, with big crowds (drunkenly) watching late fireworks, are two nights where that seems less than adequate. Metro is typically reluctant to add additional trips that are hard to usefully publicize, and Sound Transit sticks to its required 4-hour Link maintenance window, even on special occasions.

Nevertheless, King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove introduced legislation requiring King County to look into expanded Metro service on these nights. The bill (full text here) would require a report by June 1st, 2017 to discuss service options, peer agency comparisons, funding sources, and coordination opportunities.

The Council referred the bill to the Transportation, Economy, and Environment (TREE) committee, which will hold a hearing on March 7th. Full text of the bill below the jump.

Continue reading “Metro May Consider Later Service on Holidays”

24 Housing Supply Bills Survive First Cut-off in Olympia

State Senate committee meeting room

Last Friday was the final day for bills in the State Legislature to get out of a committee, with the exception of fiscal and transportation committees, and bills necessary to budgets.

Fifteen bills related to housing supply passed out of a House committee by yesterday’s cut-off.

House Bill 1085, sponsored by Rep. Brian Blake (D – Longview) et al, would permit cities and counties to eliminate any minimum floor space requirements for single family detached homes, or reduce any such standards below any minimum standards in the State Building Code. The bill passed out of the House Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs (CDHTA) Committee 7-0 on February 1. It is currently in the House Rules Committee, waiting to be placed on the second reading floor calendar.

Substitute House Bill 1514, by the House Judiciary Committee, and originally sponsored by Rep. June Robinson (D – Everett) et al, would require, with limited exceptions, that a landlord under the Manufactured/Mobile Home Landlord Tenant Act provide 18 months notice of closure or conversion. Exceptions would include when the property is taken through imminent domain; when the property is sold to a tenants’ organization, a local government, a nonprofit, or a housing authority that preserves the housing; or the landlord compensates the tenants for the loss of their homes at their assessed value prior to a change of use or sale of the property. The committee amendment reduced the notification time from 3 years to 18 months. The substitute bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee 8-5 on Thursday. It is currently in the House Rules Committee. The committee report detailing testimony was not available at time of publication. The companion bill, SB 5520, failed to get a hearing in the Senate Financial Institutions & Insurance Committee.

A group of protesters from The Firs Mobile Home Park, which is slated to be replaced with apartments and hotels, protested at the Angle Lake Station opening celebration. Per KUOW coverage, the landlord is arranging an alternative location for current tenants of the mobile home park. Under current law, mobile home tenants have a right to a one-year lease. Continue reading “24 Housing Supply Bills Survive First Cut-off in Olympia”

Tragedy at Pierce Transit HQ

A Pierce Transit employee was killed Tuesday evening after being run over by a bus at the headquarters, located in Lakewood. Names of the victim and the driver of the bus were not released Tuesday night.

KOMO is updating its coverage frequently, for the latest details.

Our condolences go to family of the deceased, and to the brothers and sisters of Pierce Transit who have a job to keep doing today as their hearts weigh heavy.

SUV Driver T-Bones Link Train. Service Disrupted in Sodo.

[Update 2: A reader sent in the scanner traffic reporting the incident. Listen below.]

[Update: Sound Transit worked through the night to fix track and signal damage, and service returned to normal Wednesday morning.]

Around 8:30pm Tuesday a person driving a white Chevy Tahoe SUV collided at high speed with Link at Holgate Street in Sodo. Reports from the scene indicate the driver drove around the crossing gates. The vehicle caused significant damage to LRV #136, collapsing doors and exposing insulation. A heavy police and fire response indicated that there were passenger injuries, but fortunately the vehicle seems to have collided with the luggage/bicycle storage area, minimizing injuries. As far as we know this is the first time a vehicle has penetrated the passenger areas of a Link train in regular service.

Photos from the scene are harrowing, but details are sparse at this hour. We hope to have more info in the morning.

Until further notice, likely through the end of service Tuesday, service is suspended between Beacon Hill and Stadium, with a bus bridge in place.

Continue reading “SUV Driver T-Bones Link Train. Service Disrupted in Sodo.”

The ULink Restructure Was a Bold Gamble. It Has (Mostly) Paid Off.

Bruce Qu (Flickr)

After a year of process in 2015 and extensive (and often heated) public participation, Metro and Sound Transit mostly bit the bullet and forged ahead with aggressive bus restructures to feed the University Link extension. Storied routes such as the 71/72/73 were deleted or shortened, the once-highest ridership line in the city (Route 48) was split into Routes 45 and 48 at UW Station, and Capitol Hill workhorse Route 43 was mostly deleted, kept alive with a handful of vestigial peak runs.

County Council members understood the theoretical benefits of restructures, but also felt the heat from their constituents, who were apoplectic that Metro would “cut” some of the best-ridden routes in the city. Most notably, Councilmember Rod Dembowski’s demanded (and won) partial restoration of Route 71 between Wedgwood, Ravenna, The Ave, and UW Station. In return for sticking their necks out to vote Yes on the restructure, the Council also required a comprehensive report on the ridership changes caused by the restructure. Though that report will be released next month, this morning Metro released the first batch of systemwide ridership data.*

Though there is a ton of data to analyze, the system trends are unmistakable and encouraging:

  • Despite an aggressive ULink restructure, Metro ridership stayed flat, declining by just 0.2%. Despite Link’s rapid growth, Metro still represents 65% of all transit boardings regionwide (121m). Trolleybus ridership grew by 1.2% (19m), and diesel bus ridership fell by 0.4% (101m)
  • Systemwide ridership grew by 4%, from 178m annual boardings to 185m, inclusive of Metro, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit, Pierce Transit, and the Monorail. This overall growth occurred despite ridership falling on Pierce Transit (-6%), Everett Transit (-5%), the Monorail (-2%), Tacoma Link (-4%), and the South Lake Union Streetcar (-16%).
  • Link ridership grew by 66% in 2016 compared to 2015, and that’s with only 9 months of ULink. At 19m boardings, in 2016 Link was equal to all 13 Metro trolley routes combined. [Edit: Metro notes that the 19m trolley boardings are on trolleybuses rather than trolleyroutes, so the 19m figure excludes weekend boardings on dieselized trolley routes.]
  • Total ridership on Metro’s restructured routes fell 10.1% – from 114k average weekday boardings in 2015 to 102k average in 2016 – as can be expected from a number of route deletions. But Link more than made up the difference, with average weekday ridership on restructured routes + Link growing by 13.3%, from 149k in 2015 to 168k in 2016.

Neighborhood trends after the jump. Continue reading “The ULink Restructure Was a Bold Gamble. It Has (Mostly) Paid Off.”

Ban Cars from Third, Now.

Buses and one car on 3rd
Third Avenue. That car, typically, is about to ignore a Do Not Enter sign. Photo by Zack Heistand.

It’s time to make Third Avenue into Seattle’s first transit mall. Tomorrow. Or, at least, late next year, once the remaining buses have to leave the downtown tunnel. The City of Seattle should ban all* non-transit motor vehicles from Third, 24/7. Banning cars completely would:

  • Increase the bus capacity of Third
  • Speed up bus travel
  • Allow more efficient bus stop positioning
  • Improve pedestrian and bike safety
  • Make enforcement easier
  • Inconvenience very few car drivers

The ban has been warranted for several years, but will become far more important with the brave new world of no tunnel buses.

While Link light rail gets all the glory and gaudy annual ridership increases, Third remains the city’s busiest transit corridor in both trips per day (3,000) and ridership (likely about 125,000). Yet, as Zach reported last month, Metro, Sound Transit, and the City are not yet considering improvements to Third in the One Center City plan. Instead, they are proposing improvements to less-used corridors, along with major bus restructures that would force transfers — in some cases, with no return benefit. Improving Third by banning cars could allow Metro and Sound Transit to avoid the worst of these forced-transfer plans, while also improving the commute for a large majority of the 47 percent. (No, Mitt, not that 47 percent — the 47 percent of downtown commuters that use transit.)

The agencies should include a transit-only Third as a core piece of One Center City, and should take advantage of it by running as many buses there as it can possibly handle. More details about why, after the jump.

*With very narrow exceptions, described below.

Continue reading “Ban Cars from Third, Now.”

Better OBA Kiosks Coming

I was as happy as anyone when SDOT installed OneBusAway kiosks at major downtown bus stops. Although getting real-time data on one’s phone is a huge advance, there is no substitute for an easy-to-read sign present at the stop.

As the picture at right attests, however, the flat-panel TVs in these kiosks have significant maintenance challenges. SDOT’s Sue Romero:

The original displays were chosen for the amount of arrival information that could be displayed on them. Many routes can be displayed simultaneously for busy bus stops serving multiple routes, compared to the LED readers that only display a few lines of text and therefore can only display a few routes at a time. However, the screens proved to be poorly manufactured and unreliable. We had an opportunity to apply that and other lessons learned to the C-Line design, and we’ve come up with a much more reliable and less expensive solution.

Last fall, SDOT began a project to replace the equipment with hardier televisions and new computers. SDOT’s Sue Romero says that $23,000 replacements should arrive “before the end of spring” and installation should be done “before the end of summer.”

But I can’t help but think of those Metro LED readers, like the one depicted from 3rd & Virginia. These signs range from 2-line, 1-sided ($8,000) to 4-line, 2-sided (as pictured) at $21,000, according to Metro’s Jeff Switzer. And they work: anecdotally, they are almost never broken. Moreover, 3rd and Virginia is the first stop outside the skip-stop pattern and serves about as many routes (29) as the kiosk stops in the core (24 at 3rd & Pine),* so they can certainly handle high-volume stops.

In terms of functional differences, reasonable people might disagree. Personally, I find the scrolling rate of the LED signs to be vastly superior to the TVs in the kiosks, and listing later arrivals of the same route in the kiosks to be redundant clutter. On the other hand, OBA’s color-coding of the time lets you know when the time reflects the schedule and is therefore not trustworthy.

Usually functioning signage is clearly superior to usually broken signage, but I have to say I slightly prefer the LED signs to even fully reliable kiosks. But both are vastly superior to the ongoing signage fiasco directly below in the tunnel.

  • * Inbound-only routes don’t show up on OneBusAway, so the number of routes either stop displays is considerably lower.

Sunday Open Thread: Elevators, Escalators and an Explanation

At Friday’s regular board meeting, the Sound Transit Board heard a report about the state of elevators and escalators on the Link light rail system. Some stations, like University of Washington, are not meeting the escalator availability standard because of frequent and long-term outages that is being blamed on premature component failure, among other issues.

This is an open thread.

Sound Transit to Sue Mercer Island

Mercer Island Station bus transfers, opposed by Mercer Island City Council

On Monday, the City of Mercer Island City Council voted to sue Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation.

On Friday, the Sound Transit Board of Directors returned the favor.

MOTION NO. M2017-20

A motion of the Board of the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority authorizing legal action against the City of Mercer Island, the Washington State Department of Transportation (a potential non-adverse defendant), and other governmental entities deemed necessary or appropriate, to confirm Sound Transit’s and the Washington State Department of Transportation‘s authority to take all lawful actions to construct and operate light rail on Interstate 90 or on Mercer Island between Seattle and Bellevue as approved by voters; and to enforce the 1976 Memorandum of Agreement and 2004 Amendment governing Interstate 90 between Seattle and Bellevue. Continue reading “Sound Transit to Sue Mercer Island”

The Technical Challenges of Seattle-Vancouver High Speed Rail: Part 1

Governor Inslee and Premier Clark at the Cascadia Conference in September 2016 (Microsoft Photo)

Looking to foster greater ties with our Canadian neighbor, last fall Microsoft sponsored the Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver. Many of the issues discussed were as you’d expect: the flow of skilled labor between the U.S. and Canada, easing of trade restrictions, and pre-emptive fear of the then-ridiculous prospect of a Trump presidency.

Seemingly out of nowhere, however, one of the most prominent topics was high speed rail between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. The mood was optimistic, with Governor Inslee, Premier Clark, and Executive Constantine joining regional tech leaders in a roundtable to lay out the vision. To say the least, the discussion was high-level; you couldn’t make out a single tree in their visionary forest, and the working paper Parsons Brinckerhoff prepared for the conference similarly lacked much technical substance. Many of us shrugged it off as loose boilerplate from our regional governments.

Then last month, Governor Inslee requested $1 million from the Legislature for an initial feasibility study, with the report due this December. The budget request is making its way through committee, with a lukewarm reception. When Microsoft testified their willingness to chip in for the study, Senate Transportation Chair Curtis King (R-Yakima) quipped, “We’d like your contribution to be $1 million.”

Vancouver in an hour would transform the region, but the prospect of building it faces enormous technical and political challenges. Besides the assent of Olympia, Victoria, Washington, Ottawa, and every other micro jurisdiction along the way, you’d need funding mechanisms for tens of billions of dollars that currently don’t exist and expertise that is weak on both sides of the border.

Current BNSF Alignment from Seattle to Vancouver

But the real challenges lie in designing and engineering the corridor itself. The current Amtrak Cascades service (157 miles, 4 hours, average speed 39mph) traverses BNSF’s legacy track, which hugs the shoreline wherever possible and never gets above 130′ in elevation (even Pike Place Market is higher). The result is predictable and unfixable: 14 additional miles compared to I-5, meandering curves, reduced speed, limited right of way to build parallel HSR track, and a corridor not at all future-proofed against rising seas.

So any HSR solution clearly lies inland, but that comes with its own challenges. Do you serve Seattle, Everett, Bellingham, and Vancouver? All of those lie at sea level along the coast. Do you weave back and forth? If not, which cities do you bypass and how? Even if you figure that out, do you access the central cities of Seattle and Vancouver or do you build peripheral stations and force transfers to Link or SkyTrain? Even California High Speed Rail is able to use existing right-of-way between Burbank and Anaheim, a luxury neither Seattle or Vancouver would have. As Mark Hallenbeck rightly quipped to the Globe and Mail, “The kicker in all of this is not the 100 miles in the middle; it’s the 30 miles on either end.”

So is it hopeless? No, but it’s damn hard. Here are a few ways it could happen. Let’s start in Seattle and move north. #long read Continue reading “The Technical Challenges of Seattle-Vancouver High Speed Rail: Part 1”

News Roundup: Heartbreaking

Mount Rainier and the Port of Seattle from Magnolia Bridge

This is an open thread.

Bills to Give Wheelchair Taxis and Motorcycles Preferential Access Move Forward in State Senate

A bill to give wheelchair-accessible taxis access to HOV lanes and a bill to give motorcycles access to some transit lanes are moving forward in the State Senate.

Sen. Bob Hasegawa
Committee Substitute Senate Bill 5018, by the Senate Transportation Committee, and originally by Sens. Bob Hasegawa (D – Renton) and Patty Kuderer (D – Clyde Hill), would grant WSDOT and appropriate local authorities the ability to allow wheelchair-accessible taxis access to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes.

WSDOT and local authorities are currently allowed to grant HOV lane access to:
* public transportation vehicles;
* motorcycles;
* private motor vehicles carrying a minimum of a specified number of passengers; and
* certain private transportation provider vehicles with the capacity to carry eight or more passengers if such use does not interfere with the efficiency, reliability, and safety of public transportation operations.

There are currently 53 private wheelchair-accessible taxis operating in the state, and none of them can carry eight or more passengers.

At the request of Toby Olson from the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment, the phrase “wheelchair-bound” was removed.

The committee substitute bill passed out of committee 12-0 January 31, and is now in the Senate Rules Committee, waiting to be placed on the second reading calendar.

We previously covered this bill back when it was introduced.

Sen. Tim Sheldon
Committee Substitute Senate Bill 5378, by the Senate Transportation Committee, and originally sponsored by Sens. Tim Sheldon (D – Potlatch), Brian Dansel (R – Republic), Bob Hasegawa, Steve Conway (D – Tacoma), and Phil Fortunato (R – Auburn), would authorize a two year pilot program allowing motorcycles to pass a vehicle in the same lane as the vehicle being overtaken, subject to specific operational limitations. It would also open the shoulder of a limited access WSDOT facility for all motorcycles when that lane is opened for the operation of public transportation vehicles, under the same time periods and conditions.

For the duration of the pilot project, the operator of a motorcycle would be allowed to overtake and pass in the same lane as the vehicle being overtaken, but only on the left-hand side of the vehicle, on divided highways with at least two general lanes each way. The motorcyclist would only be allowed to pass on the left hand side when the motorcycle is traveling at a speed of 25 miles per hour or less and not more than 10 miles per hour over the speed of traffic flow. It would become a traffic infraction for an operator of a motor vehicle to intentionally impede or attempt to prevent a motorcyclist from passing on the left-hand side as allowed in the pilot project.

Both proponents and opponents came armed with non sequiturs. Proponents pointed to a UC Berkeley study showing lower motorcyclist fatality rates among those sharing lanes, which is already allowed here. In what seemed more like a rebuke of the status quo, representatives from the Washington State Patrol and the Traffic Safety Commission testified against the bill with statistics that (quite intuitively) pointed out that motorcyclists die at a higher rate than their percent of traffic, and (not helpfully) 75% of motorcycle fatalities are found to be the motorcyclist’s fault.

Proponents also touted the bill as a way to ease congestion.

The committee amendment removed the restriction of a motorcycle having to pass on the left-hand side of a vehicle traveling in the left-most lane of traffic, after testimony that this is the part of a highway with the most debris.

The committee substitute bill passed out of committee 9-2-1 February 8.

Voting Yes were:
Curtis King (R – Yakima, Committee Chair)
Sheldon (Vice Chair)
Brad Hawkins (R – East Wenatchee)
Steve O’Ban (R – Tacoma)
Dean Takko (D – Longview)
Kevin Van de Wege (D – Sequim)
Maureen Walsh (R – College Place)
Lynda Wilson (R – Vancouver)

Voting No were:
Marko Liias (D – Everett, Assistant Ranking Minority Member)
Annette Cleveland (D – Vancouver)

Steve Hobbs (D – Lake Stevens, Ranking Minority Member) voted for “no recommendation.”

The bill was moved out of the Senate Rules Committee by floor motion Tuesday, so it is now on the second reading floor calendar.